Kia's first attempt at a crossover/mvp/4x4 is without doubt a great looking motor. At a time when other manufacturers are losing money and sales, Kia has increased and with the looks of the new Soul SAMBA 1.6 turbo diesel I tested, it's no surprise.
Prices start at the entry level Soul 1 at just under £10,500, but all you're really getting for your money is a cross over SUV look alike with lots of safety features but none of the fun gadgets and add on styling that I found made the SAMBA have Soul. The mid-range diesel model I tested with all the added extras costs £13,500. This is due to the fact that to have a diesel engine you have to add an extra grand onto the entry price. Then it's a grand per trim upgrade, so entry level petrol = £10,500 (or just under) grand for the Diesel = £11,500, another grand to upgrade the trim from Soul 1 to Soul 2, which is where the decent stuff like 16" alloys replace the 15" steel wheels and useful gadgets like iPod connection leads start kicking in. So we're up to £12,500 for a lower range model, the Soul is suddenly not looking like such a bargain. Add another grand to upgrade to the SAMBA special edition we tested, or the other special edition model the Shaker, and we're at £13,500 with no optional extras other than trim upgrades! It is worth pointing out though that the special edition models all come with 18" alloys and the sound systems at this point start getting into 'louder than a nightclub' territory. The top of the range 'Burner' model is another £1,500 upgrade, now £16,000 might not sound like a lot, but for what you get for the money, I'm not so sure it's the bargain it's being painted out to be. So on my test SAMBA, I got huge 18 inch alloy's (which lets be honest every inch counts guys), privacy glass, useless parking sensors, and heated door mirrors. My test car was the 1.6 turbo diesel packing 126bhp with only a 5-speed gearbox (desperately needed a 6sp!) and front wheel drive, huge wheel arch's and curvy body.
Style and looks
Does the Soul have soul? YES, this mini MVP crossover looks great and its ex-Audi designer 'Peter Schreyer' who is to thank for that. Although he obviously wasn't present when Kia installed the two-tone colour glove box (in the Samba model I tested) which looks like nothing more than a 'transvestite's hand bag', leaving you pondering to what exactly is going on with who Kia are targeting this car at.
The Interior finish didn't live up to that of the Cee'd and pro_Cee'd models that Kia are selling hand over fist. Overall it lacked a quality feel and had far too much cheapish looking plastic filling the interior. The Soul just does not deliver on standard of quality that the exterior so easily provides. The Soul's exterior with its huge 'dodge' like front end, bold creases and huge wheel arches really gives this new model a look unmatched currently in the market. With the standard rear privacy glass on my test car giving a look of importance (it also makes it look really evil, in a good way). The size of Kia's crossover brings a 'Freelander 2' feel, as it sits high, overlooking normal hatches from what seems like some great height, and with the sheer size brings a certain dominancy to the road.
The 1.6 CRDI I tested was loud, very loud, sounding like a tractor as it chugged away, pull away isn't exactly the slow but its not quick either, but the 5sp box is very smooth. With 126bhp giving enough power to tug along comfortable, but not to a level which would give you confidence, that the Soul was able participate in any real type of 'drag race off the lights performance'. Apparently the turbo diesel gives you 47.9mpg, but sadly I saw around 35mpg, which although not bad, isn't great for a 1.6 diesel.
Comfort and Equipment
The Soul's suspension (personally) I found 'lacking', bouncing up and down over the smallest of speed bumps then left rocking side-side. This was not what I had been expecting when sat in such a large sturdy Crossover, saying this on long journeys the Soul can not be faulted for comfort on motorways, the huge interior space leaves you with a comfortable drive and four comfortable passengers, thanks to all that terrific head and leg room. Handling is great without a shadow of a doubt, the Soul handles corners and sweeping bends in its stride, remaining comfortable at all times.
The area that the Soul, not only excels, but can not be beaten on is its sound system. The SAMBA model I tested came as standard with the 315 watt power amplifier and eight speakers. This included a dash-top centre speaker and the wicked PowerBass subwoofer in the boot. This audio system abSOULutly (did ya see what I did there lol) ROCKS. But with this fantastic urban system begs the question: what was KIA thinking when it installed the 'boy-racers-cruising-sound-off-in-a-B&Q-car-park' neon red lights in the speakers! This 'light' show, that flashes away to the bass in any music you play, can also be set to '70's-B-movie-take-on-eerie-invasion-from-Mars' low pulsating / glowing 'Mood Light' (which I personally may subliminally be able to evoke road rage) or you can set them to permanently on. The permanently on setting engulfs the Soul's interior in a deep red light which is more than reminiscent of a happy ending in a knocking shop in old Amsterdam.
So back to standard equipment, air-con as standard in all models, a wicked little bonus, but sadly falls down with no sat nav (not even as an optional extra). In fact bar the Sat-Nav (or lack of) there's not much KIA have missed out, which in my opinion makes it well worth its money.
The Soul SAMBA is a comfortable, funky, stylish and surprisingly fun Crossover. I personally enjoyed the Soul, it made me feel like was driving a much larger vehicle than I was, it didn't fail to turn heads, whether that was due the 'tractor-like' sounding engine, the raging sound system or the oddly sleek style, passers by looked on in amusement as I cruised on by. On long motorways or even in traffic it was easy to relax and go with the flow, as the Soul doesn't feel as quick as it actually is (0-62mph taking 11.3 seconds) I believe it was mainly designed to be a cruising, comfortable car. My first impression of the 'Samba' model I tested was of bewilderment, as I could only describe it as a 'Russell brand' look-a-like, unusual and different with flashing lights, Yes the Soul had a very unique personality and didn't fail to win me over.